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Dum Spiro Spero

I’ve been thinking about Easter since this past Sunday, and about the message of Easter. I taught my students this weekend that Easter is all about hope – hope for salvation through Christ. I talked through John 20, where we see the stories of Mary Magdalene, the Disciples, and Thomas specifically, as well as through the story of Peter’s denial and restoration. I focused on how encountering the resurrected Jesus changed each of them:

  • Mary’s grief over Jesus’ loss turned into hope that all would be well, that those we lose aren’t really lost.
  • The Disciples’ fear for their lives turned into hope for salvation, both for themselves and for others.
  • Thomas’ doubt and disappointment turned into hope that Jesus was greater than what Thomas thought he was.
  • Peter’s shame over his own mistakes turned into hope that his story didn’t have to end with failure.

It was a good message, and I was glad to be able to speak it into students’ lives at our Easter services this past weekend.

Then yesterday my wife pointed out the new South Carolina licence plates. To be honest, I like almost everything about the old ones better – the swatch of orange fading into blue behind the palmetto tree, evoking a beautiful South Carolina sunset; the silhouetted terrain at the bottom; even the palmetto tree itself. Side note: I did not like the “travel2sc.com” advertisement at the bottom; it was tacky.

SC old license plate

But the one thing that I truly love about the new license plates is the inclusion of our state motto at the top. Officially, the South Carolina state motto is Dum Spiro Spero, which translates from Latin into English as While I Breathe, I Hope. I’ve lived here 10 years now, and I didn’t know that.

SC Regular Passenger Ver2 with Black AN for JPEG

What a great motto, and what a great message to put on every single car in our state!

You’re probably aware of this, but 2015 was a pretty tough year for South Carolina, especially in the arenas of racial tension and violence. We saw a political fight over the Confederate Flag turn into quite a bit of ugliness on both sides, had a nationally publicized incident of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man who was running away from him seven times in the back, and had to deal with the horror of a white man sitting through an entire bible study at a black church before pulling a gun and killing nine people. With the possible exception of the kerfluffle over the flag, I must say that we acquitted ourselves nicely.

I have to believe that part of why we were able to come through such a difficult year in the manner that we did is because of hope. #CharlestonStrong started popping up everywhere as a way for people to say, “We are united and strong, regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, or religion. We cannot be broken by one broken person, and we will not succumb to an agenda of fear and hopelessness.”

I’m proud of South Carolina, and I’m grateful for the hope that Jesus’ resurrection brings us. I do hope that we can find a middle ground between the colorful artistry of our old license plate and the statement of hope on the new one, but that’s a discussion for another time…

Peace. And hope.

Cool Stuff

My reactions to last night’s game and commercials will have to wait until later this week. Today, there are some cool things I need to tell you about.

-Today is an awesome day for me. I want each of you to click over to morethandodgeball.com and read my first ever guest post there. It’s called “The Thing About Spurs,” and it’s about spurs… And ministry… I like it, and I hope you do, too.

-Another new, exciting thing for me is that I’m in the process of migrating this blog over to the fancier, more customizable version of WordPress. I’m getting pretty pumped about it. In order to make it as good as it can be, I need some help – if you’re a regular reader, and have any experience with designing/creating a cool background for a website, would you email me? I’m at a point where my lack of technical ability is bumping against my creativity pretty hard.

-Here’s something else that’s cool that I shared with our congregation yesterday: Yesterday was the SuperBowl, the granddaddy of all American sporting events. Part of the awesome thing about sports is that fans of a team get to participate vicariously in the team’s victory. When the Braves win I don’t say, “The team I support won the game.” Instead, I say, “We won!” As a Braves fan, I get to claim that victory. But what’s even cooler is that a greater victory than that, or than winning the SuperBowl, was won by Jesus Christ. He won a victory on the cross over sin and death. And as his followers, we get to claim that victory. Amen, and amen.

Peace.

Respectful Dialog

I’ve written once or twice here about the issues of respectful dialog and common sense, and how those two elements seem to be missing from the American political landscape. I’ve also written about how sad I think it is when people treat politics like it is the absolute most important thing in the world. Those issues have come up again with the terrible events in Arizona this week. Read the rest of this entry

Christmas Battles

Yesterday we started this year’s Christmas series at church. In his sermon, our pastor referenced the “War on Christmas,” which has become a catch-phrase for many of us Christians during this season of the year.

I’m running short on time today, plus I don’t want to get all preachy this early in the week, so I’ll make this short today and write more about it later.

I think the Christians who get all up in arms about stores that make their employees say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are crazy. So are the people who get crazy about people using “X-mas” instead of “Christmas.”

The fact is that it’s not Wal-Mart’s job, or Target’s job, or Radio Shack’s job, or anybody else’s job, for that matter, to tell the story of Christ.

It is our job.

Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to go into all the world and make sure that retail outlets use the word “Christmas” between Thanksgiving and December 25th. He told them (and us by extension) to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey His commands.

This holiday season, let’s let the retailers do their jobs in peace, and let’s focus on our job – living out the good news for all men.

Peace.

Some More Election Perspective

Well, it’s over. For now. At least, the main part of it is over… There will be all the arguing and re-counting and (potentially) lawsuits over the close races for weeks still to come. I’m riveted, honestly…

As is typical of elections in our country, it was just about all you could find on the news yesterday. All day… There were anchors keeping tabs on the exit polls, pundits providing (mostly meaningless and repetitive) commentary and analysis, interviews, special graphics, blah, blah, blah, on and on and on. Read the rest of this entry

Famous ‘Doubters’ and Why Their Faith was Greater than Ours is

‘Doubters’… We read their stories in the Bible and, if we’re honest, they make us feel better about our own faith. But that’s only the case because of two things – 1)we don’t, or won’t, recognize our own doubts and lack of faith, and 2)we don’t fully understand their stories. Let’s take a look at some famous ‘doubters’ and why their faith was greater than ours is.

Thomas

The disciple Thomas is the most famous doubter in the Bible. He’s even gotten the nickname ‘Doubting Thomas’ over the years. His doubt story is well-known (John 20:24-29). Thomas wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw Jesus with his own eyes, and touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. Jesus appeared to him and satisfied his doubts, and Thomas praised him.

But let’s examine Thomas’ doubt a bit more closely… It’s easy to think that Thomas shouldn’t have doubted Jesus’ power over death on the grounds that he had already seen it at least once before (John 11:1-43). But there’s a key difference between the story in John 11 and Jesus’ resurrection – Jesus was dead. Thomas, like many others, rightly believed that Lazarus had been raised by Jesus’ power in John 11. So it would seem pretty natural, after learning of Jesus’ death on the cross, that Thomas would think that it wasn’t possible for anyone to be raised from the dead again.

But (like Gideon) once his doubts were answered, Thomas never looked back. In fact, there is a tradition that Thomas carried the Gospel farther than any other apostle, all the way to India. (To be fair, there is an equally strong tradition that Thomas was buried in Edessa, a city in modern day Turkey. This would either mean that Thomas actually ministered there, or that his remains were brought all the way there from India when he died. That his remains were brought there from India by a merchant is supported in many ancient traditions.)

But let’s look at an even clearer indication of Thomas’ faith – from that same story in John 11. Jesus tells his disciples that he is returning to Judea. The disciples politely remind Jesus that they had been there a few days before and people had wanted to kill Jesus. A brief conversation ensues in which Jesus eventually tells them of Lazarus’ death. Then Thomas drops the faith-bomb. Believing, like the rest of the disciples, that Jesus will be killed if he returns to Judea, Thomas says to the others, “Let’s go, too – and die with Jesus” (John 11:16).

Doesn’t that throw Thomas into a different light? ‘Doubting Thomas’ was the one disciple who showed a willingness to follow Jesus into a situation that he had every reason to believe would result in his death.

What about me and you? Would we follow Jesus into downtown Tehran, Iran, for instance? Or some other place where being white, Christian, and American is like the holy trinity of reasons that someone would want to kill you? Would you or I be willing to stare death in the face to follow Jesus, or would we try to find some way out, some other thing we could do and still call ourselves faithful?

Tough questions…

Peace.

‘Glee’ on Religion

Did you see Glee last night? The hit show, known for its unique blend of comedy and biting social commentary, outrageous scenarios and touching moments, took on the topic of religion. To be honest, as much as I typically love Glee, I was pretty skeptical going into this episode.

I believe that Glee is almost uniquely positioned in today’s youth culture to speak truth to its viewers. For the most part, I think the show is fairly responsible with that role. Glee has received criticism from some Christian sources for its treatment of hot-button issues like homosexuality and its portrayal of Christians, and, truthfully, the show has taken a worldly viewpoint on some of those issues. Add to that that the show is, in some ways, art imitating life in a culture where ‘spirituality’ is hip, but not necessarily Christianity. The result is sometimes what you’d typically expect – inclusive, humanist, but devoid of real Biblical truth. On the whole, though, I have found Glee to be very honest and, at times, surprisingly conservative in the views it expresses.

Here is the rundown of last night’s episode…

The Gist – Finn made a grilled cheese sandwich which seemed to bear the image of Christ. He dubs it “Grilled Cheesus” (say what you want about sacrilege, that’s pretty clever) and prays to it. His prayers are seemingly answered, leading him to believe that God is taking a personal interest in his life, and granting him prayers in return for Finn convincing Mr. Schuester to dedicate a week of glee club to spiritual songs.

Meanwhile Kurt’s dad has a cardiac arrhythmia and ends up in a coma. Kurt declares his discomfort with “spiritual week” because he doesn’t believe in God, mostly due to the Church’s typical position on him due to his homosexuality. Throughout the episode he is continually confronted with his friends’ spirituality in their attempts to comfort him and pray for his father.

These two characters eventually find a sort of resolution. Finn, after speaking with the school’s counselor, end up feeling alone and confused, no longer sure that the things that have been going the way he wanted them to are the result of God’s intervention. Kurt agrees to accompany Mercedes to church, where she speaks an important, albeit watered-down, spiritual truth to him – we all need something to have faith in, something to hold on to. Kurt chooses his father and their relationship, and seems to come to terms with spirituality as a whole.

The Good

  • This episode of Glee treated the subjects of God, religion, and spirituality with its typical mixture of humor, cutting social commentary, music, and touching personal moments. To me, this says, “Hey, we’re talking about life here, and these issues are as much a part of life as anything else.”
  • The culmination of Kurt’s storyline in this episode found him coming to terms with the idea of having faith in something greater than himself. It’s a step in the right direction, and one that I think many people can make without having to stretch themselves too far.
  • I was so happy to see a show address the idea of prayer as a bargaining agreement between us and God. Finn’s journey in this episode, aside from being the comic relief, pretty closely mirrors what a lot of spiritually immature people go through in their spiritual life.

The Bad

  • It was exactly what I expected out of Glee, but I was still a little disappointed to see that, in the end, Glee’s message was “Just believe in something.” There are worse messages out there, but I’m just not a fan of the pluralist, it’s-all-the-same-anyways, kind of message.
  • It would have been nice to see Finn come to some sort of resolution in his faith life. After Emma convinces him that his grilled cheese sandwich hasn’t actually been acting as a conduit for God’s power, Finn feels abandoned by God. Unfortunately, the show never resolves that in any way. To me, it was a disheartening message to people who are going through the same faith struggles that Finn was.
  • About halfway through the show, Glee brought up the whole “separation of Church and State” issue. The proponent of that separation on the show was Sue Sylvester, who shared honestly that her own lack of faith sprang from her experience praying that God would make her Down’s Syndrome sister normal, and seeing those prayers unanswered. Sylvester challenges glee club, who apparently backs down with no mention whatsoever of a student’s actual rights on religious matters in school. In the end, Sue has a conversation with her sister, who tells her that she believes in God, and asks her if Sue wants her to pray for her. Sue agrees, and even appears to have a change of heart. However, the separation of Church and State issue is not even touched after that, leaving viewers with the impression that it’s a settled, cut-and-dry issue.

Overall, this episode was a lot less offensive to me as a Christian than I thought it might be. There were some very powerful moments, like when Kurt recounted to the glee club his memories of his father’s powerful and comforting hands, then sings a very emotional version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. And it was awesome to see Kurt’s friends be persistently loving towards him, even when his own emotional turmoil caused him to be a pretty big jerk for most of the episode.

In the end, I think “Grilled Cheesus” handled the topic of religion and spirituality about as well as one could hope from today’s pop culture, though that’s not saying much.

What about you? Did you watch it? What did you think?

Peace.

#ttt (Thiefin’ Thursday Two-fer) – “On Burning Religious Books”

Here is a great article from Tony Reinke that blows apart the foolish argument that Acts 19:11-20 somehow justifies burning copies of the Qur’an.

“On Burning Religious Books”

Peace.

‘Christians’ Who Just Don’t Get It

I’ll be honest with you, I am struggling this morning. I was out of touch on vacation this weekend, so I was catching up on news this morning and came across this story. (Here comes the rage…) Apparently some idiot pastor in Florida has decided that his church will mark the anniversary of the September 11th attacks by staging an “International Burn a Koran Day”.

Ironically, the name of the church is Dove World Outreach Church. The dove is traditionally a symbol of peace. Outreach usually (and most effectively) involves loving others and seeking to understand where they are so that we can effectively communicate the Gospel.

So, in order to stop myself from spewing venom onto my blog here (there’s enough of that already coming from this guy in Florida), let’s take this as an opportunity to talk about Jesus, love, the gospel, and culture wars.

The reality is that many people see themselves as being engaged in a culture war of some sort or another – Left v. Right, Conservative v. Liberal, Republican v. Democrat, Gay v. Straight, Christian v. Muslim, and on and on. There are two huge problems with this. For one, people oftentimes play the religion trump card, which is fine except for the fact that when we do this our religion becomes whatever we believe politically. In this way Left v. Right becomes Left v. God’s Truth, for instance. Or Gay v. God’s Truth, Abortion v. God’s Truth, etc. (I’m speaking specifically to conservative, Republican Christians right now because, let’s be honest, we tend to think of liberals and Democrats as Godless heathens – possibly because they don’t play the religion trump card as much as we do). What we have in essence done is to create a situation where our personal political beliefs always win in our minds because we marry them to our religious beliefs. And I think this is a problem.

The other major problem with the culture war mentality is that, when you declare war on someone, you really limit your options. At that point, you pretty much “have to either handcuff them or kill them – that’s the only way to win”, to borrow a phrase from Donald Miller.* To say it another way, when you declare war on someone, in order to win you have to either complete subjugate and dominate the person, or you have to destroy them. And the real problem here is that, in scripture, we never see Jesus do either one of these things. It seems like Jesus was a lot more interested in loving people and addressing their needs, both physical and spiritual. Jesus never “declared war” on the Pharisees, the group he probably had the most reason to declare war on. He never “declared war” against drunkenness or prostitution or tax collection – he just loved on drunks, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Jesus didn’t even “declare war” on sin, at least not in the way that we usually think about it. Jesus just loved sinners and got to know them. And as he did so, as these sinners got to know Him, their lives were changed. It wasn’t about knowing or understanding or believing certain things in order to be saved – it was just about knowing Jesus.

So back to what I said originally… I’m struggling this morning because part of me wants to have unity in love and in the faith with a fellow believer in Christ. Another part of me wants to yell and scream because this fellow believer is so horribly misrepresenting Jesus to the world (and by ‘yell and scream’, I mean ‘swear and throw things’). I want all my readers (both of you!) to understand the gospel of Jesus in a way that this pastor in Florida obviously doesn’t. It’s about love and grace, not judgement and death.

Peace. …and I mean peace. Stop thinking about life as a culture war against something. The body count is too high already…

*the Donald Miller quote comes from his book, Searching for God Knows What. Excellent book!

A Sign of Growth, Maybe…?

I’ve noticed something lately that has surprised me a little bit, honestly. In my current Bible reading plan, I’m in a pretty long section where I’m reading through all the Prophets in the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, etc.). What is surprising is that I’m pretty bored with the whole big section. What I mean is that, except for a few interesting stories or poetical beauty here and there in the Prophets, I enjoyed reading Leviticus and Deuteronomy more than this…

But it wasn’t always this way for me. I remember being younger and being absolutely fascinated with prophecy. I mean, totally mesmerized.

I, like many others, devoured the Left Behind books. Part of that was that they were pretty well-written and entertaining, but part of it was also the fact that they dealt with the end-times and prophecy. I particularly liked the parts where the scholarly Tsion Ben Judah would, piece by piece, reveal what was going to happen next to the earth and those who were left behind in the rapture. I think, looking back, that I liked the feeling of knowing and understanding something that was difficult to know or understand.

But now as I look back on those books, I realize that my attraction to them was also about my own weak faith. Here’s what I mean… As I got into the story, put myself in among the Remnant, I began to feel like my faith was bolstered every time I could point to something and say, “See, that happened according to prophecy! God really is in control!”

And I think the reality is, that is why so many people are fascinated/borderline obsessed with studying Revelation and other end-times prophecy. We simply like the reassurance that we get when something in real life lines up with a prophecy in scripture. It comforts us, in a way.

Personally, as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve become less and less interested in end-times prophecies. The reason is pretty simple, I think – whether God gave me special understanding for every prophecy in scripture, or if I never understood a single one of them, it shouldn’t affect the way I live right now. Either way, total comprehension or complete ignorance, I should be loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and I should be loving other people as myself (Mark 12:28-31). I should also be going out into the world and making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28:19-20).

I think this is a sign of spiritual growth – that I’m more focused on living obediently day to day now than on trying to piece together and understand things that might happen in my lifetime or might not. You shouldn’t take this to mean that I don’t think the prophecy sections of the Bible aren’t important. Fact is, the whole thing is God’s revelation to mankind, so it’s all important. I’m just not all that interested anymore in focusing a ton of time and energy trying to solve the mysteries of God. If everything I believe is true, then it really doesn’t matter how the world ends, or who the anti-Christ is, or what the one-world-government will look like. My job, regardless of all that other stuff, is to love God, love people, and make disciples.

Peace.

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